It's so easy to share. We propagate information and insight via LinkedIn or Facebook shares, re-tweets or copy and pasting stuff. But hang on, is that stuff good stuff or are you going to look just plain silly?
Look at this graphic which I've seen shared many times (I've removed the logo of the graphic’s originator, I'm not targeting them) does the small print ring any alarm bells for you?
Two things stand out to me:
The source – USPS, the United States Postal Service. I’m not claiming there’s anything untoward or that any data has been manipulated but I’m suspicious when an organisation, with so much to gain from the mailing of printed catalogues, presents the results of a survey they have funded.
The date – 2005. This was five years before the introduction of the iPad, when the concept was just a twinkle in Steve Job’s eye. I’m guessing the figures would not be as impressive if the research was carried out again 2017, a full 12 years later.
What appears at first glance to be a compelling argument for print turns out to be outdated and irrelevant.
If we ignore it, it doesn’t exist
Recently the UK held its first general election of the year (see what I did there?) and the Labour party used this graphic to defend its manifesto pledge about raising corporation tax.
This time it’s not the small print we need to worry about, it's what missing that makes me question the way the data is presented. Again, it isn’t wrong, but it is very selective.
Where is the Netherlands or Ireland, to name just two that spring to mind? Both attractive places to live, work and do business that have been conveniently ignored for the sake of a cheap headline.
I’m not trying to be political. Labour ran a much better campaign than the Tories, but this graphic just made me sigh.
Did you know the carbon footprint of a letter is better than email?
Just because you have some data, and it supports your cause, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use it. Think of your audience and how they will see it. A print provider may well look at the sentiments of the ‘Email is Evil’ argument and think, “Yeah! Right on!” but what about everybody else? I’d suggest the committed email user won’t decide to email less and post letters instead based on this kind of approach. They are more likely to think a declining, outdated communication medium is clutching at straws and file it under ‘ignore’ or ‘who cares?’ (and don’t get me started on the role of newspapers in communicating news!)
The three-point data check
So before hitting share, like or copy/pasting that data check it passes the test:
1. Is it from a reliable, current source?
2. What’s missing, is it something obvious?
3. Does your audience care?
Fail on any, or all the above points and you’re just going to look plain silly.